I am writing to you for two reasons, first, because many of you have written to me about a wonderful phenomenon you are experiencing, describing it as feeling a “pull” to be in full communion with the Church. However, you explain you cannot proceed because you have been divorced and remarried without going through the annulment process and receiving a decree of nullity. Many of you continue to come to mass and respectfully do not approach the Eucharist, but instead, wait patiently while others receive. I commend you for this and I have no doubt this “pull” you describe is the call of the Holy Spirit, leading you back home to the Church. I enthusiastically encourage you to follow this calling of the Holy Spirit. Talk to a priest to discover what your next step should be. No matter how complicated your situation might seem, there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome if your heart is open and humble. There will be so much joy and many incredible blessings when you open yourself to God’s will in your life. His grace is already at work.
More importantly, as your particular impediment gains global attention and is debated in the public square, I want to help you understand what the media will not explain to you. Many people believe the Church’s standards regarding the reception of the Eucharist by divorced Catholics who have remarried without an annulment are unfair and harshly discriminatory. Members of the media have whipped this discussion into a frenzy of confusion, provoking the anger of people everywhere, divorced and non-divorced alike. In their efforts to cause everyone to doubt the teachings of the Church and misconstrue their true meanings, they’ve succeeded in making this a sort of “human rights” issue, leading you to believe you are being treated unfairly… as if you are second-class citizens. But, nothing could be further from the truth.
So, what is the truth about this issue? The truth is simple: Anyone – married, never-married, widowed, divorced, religious – who is not in the state of grace is prohibited from receiving Holy Communion (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1385).
There are consequences to sin. If we are not in a state of grace due to grave sin, being prohibited from receiving the Eucharist is one of those consequences. We all must approach this holy sacrament, this miracle Christ gives us with the highest regard and the utmost humility so we do not bring condemnation upon ourselves. This is the Church’s way of protecting her children from such condemnation and preserving the necessary respect for the Eucharist. So, for a Catholic who has been divorced and remarried without a decree of nullity, this mandate is not intended to ostricize you, it’s about protecting you and encouraging you to resolve your circumstances so you may receive the Eucharist worthily, just as it would be for anyone else.
There is nothing new about this issue. In the fourth century St. John Chrysostom, one of the early fathers of the Church, urged Christians to approach the Eucharist properly disposed, not just with clean hands and clean clothes, but with clean souls:
You dare not touch the host with dirty hands, even if grave necessity urged you. Likewise, do not approach the Eucharist with a dirty soul, because that would be much graver and carries with it a more terrible punishment (The Eucharist Through The Centuries, Roberto de la Vega).
In a homily he gave on Christmas Day, this great saint further preached the necessity of being properly disposed:
When you approach the awesome and divine table (altar) and those sacred mysteries, do it with fear and trembling, with a clear conscience, with prayer and fasting. Do not approach in disorder . . . that would show great arrogance and no small disrespect. . . . Man, think to yourself what a great Victim you are going to touch, what table you are approaching. Consider that you being earth and ashes, take the blood and body of Christ (ibid).
As baptized Catholics, we are all called to help each other, pray for one another, and lead each other to Christ. For these reasons I write, and I hope it helps to clear the air of misunderstandings. I hope you will follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit in your life with great joy, for this is a sign that God has not abandoned you. Neither has the Catholic Church.
Please, count on my prayers for you and I welcome your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.